Medical Milestones for Firefighter Who Underwent Face Transplant

Patrick Hardison before surgery, five months after surgery, and one year after surgery. Credit: NYU Langone

A severely burned Mississippi firefighter, who underwent the most extensive face transplant ever performed, is thriving one year after his historic surgery, according to his medical team at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Among his many milestones, he has never had an incident in which his body has attempted to reject his new face – an unprecedented achievement among those who have had the procedure.

Patrick Hardison, 42, who was injured in the line of duty in 2001, has had several follow-up procedures since his transplant, principally to adjust his new eyelids and lips, and to remove the feeding tube from his abdomen and the breathing tube from his trachea. As a result, he has been able to return to activities he loves but had been unable to partake in since his accident, including driving a car and swimming.

“The surgery has truly given me back my life,” says Hardison. “I go about my day just like everyone else. It’s allowed me to do things with my family that I had not been able to do. I can’t tell you what a sense of freedom it is to even drive my kids to school. We recently went on a family vacation to Disney World, and I swam in the pool with them – something I hadn’t done in 15 years.”

Hardison also adds: “There are no more stares, no more frightened children running away from me. I’m pretty much just a normal guy. Now, I want to help others to pursue this type of surgery, especially fellow firefighters and members of the armed services. There definitely is hope.”

Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS, the chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone and the surgeon who led the team of over 100 medical professionals that performed Hardison’s transplant, points to three significant milestones in his recovery: the absence of a rejection episode; the normal function of Hardison’s new eyelids; and the execution and achievement of the most extensive soft tissue clinical face transplant to date.

“We are amazed at Pat’s recovery, which has surpassed all of our expectations,” Rodriguez says. “Most significant is the lack of a rejection episode. We believe this has much to do with the methodical approach we took in the matching process to ensure that Patrick’s donor provided the most favorable match. Doing so also has allowed us to reduce the levels of certain medications that Pat takes to prevent rejection.”

Eduardo Rodriguez of NYU Langone Medical Center
Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez – Credit: NYU Langone Medical Center

Rodriguez also concludes that including selective facial bone structure in addition to the chin of the donor provided natural bone marrow stem cells to help the transplanted face thrive following the surgery, and provided the necessary positional support for the facial soft tissues.

The successful transplant of the donor’s eyelids and blinking mechanisms also has been particularly important, as Hardison was in danger of losing his sight and had been unable to perform independent daily tasks. Blinking enables the body to appropriately hydrate and clean the eyes to prevent infection and preserve vision.

“Pat has been incredibly compliant with his post-surgical regimen, and that has allowed us to expedite his surgical schedule,” Rodriguez notes. “He is extremely committed to daily exercise, taking his medications and meeting with his physicians regularly. All of this has put him way ahead of schedule in terms of getting to the optimal level of recovery and appearance.”

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